Roxanne Ornelas, Miami University
Indigenous women are frequently the traditional caretakers of water for their peoples but often their personal experiences in response to relocation or environmental ruin are ignored by researchers. This study examines the environmental challenges and the negative impacts that indigenous women experience in their cultural and spiritual roles with regard to water. Featured in this paper are the results of a conference that was co-organized by the author’s Indigenous Women’s Leadership Project and the Indigenous Peoples Task Force in the state of Minnesota in March 2008 with follow-up participant activity reports from 2009 and 2010. The conference brought together several indigenous women and girls from the United States, Canada, and Mexico to discuss the importance of water policy issues for indigenous women in their traditional role as caretakers of the water. Of significant importance were the exchanges that focused on the sacred nature of water and the many customary activities that have been compromised by environmental impacts on the surrounding natural habitats of fish, terrestrial animals, and ceremonial and medicinal plants. The implications for future research suggest that the development of culturally relevant political and public policy strategies that integrate the traditional values of indigenous peoples is essential for developing the environmental management and leadership potential among indigenous women and girls.